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Scotland stun Croatia as Italy’s Mario Balotelli sees red

Helder Postiga propels Portugal to top of Group F while Ukraine maul Montenegro

Image Credit: Reuters
Scotland’s Robert Snodgrass (right) scored the winner against Croatia in their World Cupqualifier in Zagreb on Friday to give Gordon Strachan his first win as national team boss.
Gulf News

Paris: Scotland caused the upset of the latest round of World Cup qualifiers in Europe with a 1-0 victory at Croatia on Friday.

But it was still errant Italy forward Mario Balotelli who stole the headlines as he was sent off in his team’s 0-0 draw at Czech Republic.

There was little to get excited about in the game itself as the hosts dominated but were kept at bay by a Juventus-dominated Italian rear-guard.

But 18 minutes from time AC Milan striker Balotelli picked up his second booking within three minutes to earn a red card.

That sent the troubled 22-year-old into an angry fit as he lashed out at anything within range once he’d left the pitch, as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told him to sit down on the bench and stay calm.

“Balotelli was indeed agitated, it was his personal problem and he should learn to cope with it,” said Prandelli.

Gianluigi Buffon kept Italy in the match with saves from Vladimir Darida, Petr Jiracek and Libor Kozak.

“We would have lost without him, he was the best one on the pitch,” the coach said of his goalkeeper.

That was enough to push out the Azzurri lead over second-placed Bulgaria at the top of Group B to three points, with the Czechs two-points further back.

In Zagreb Robert Snodgrass notched the only goal of the game as Gordon Strachan’s Scotland earned their first win of the qualifying campaign, ending Croatia’s unbeaten Group A record.

Snodgrass volleyed home on the stretch after a mazy run from Wigan’s Shaun Maloney ended with the ball breaking kindly to his team-mate off a home defender.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you get a group of players who play for each other and who play from the heart,” said a defiant Strachan after his first win as national team boss.

“I never even think about the critics. I’ve no need and the players have no need to prove anyone wrong.”

The result was even more surprising as Croatia are currently ranked fourth in the Fifa World Rankings.

It also meant they dropped three points off Belgium, who maintained their unbeaten start with a 2-1 win over Serbia, who are now out of contention as they trail the group leaders by 12 points.

Portugal gave themselves a Group F lifeline as Helder Postiga’s ninth minute winner gave them a 1-0 success against previously-unbeaten Russia.

Portugal are now top of the group, two points above Russia, who have two games in hand.

Ukraine ensured Group H remained even more congested at the top than before with a stunning 4-0 success at group leaders Montenegro.

That result, earned with goals from Denys Garmash, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Artem Fedetskiy and Roman Bezus, played into England’s hands.

England are second, two points behind Montenegro but with a game in hand. Ukraine are third, a further point back, and also with a game in hand, meaning the top three could be separated by just a single point if the two chasers win their games in hand.

The game in Podgorica finished with just 19 players on the pitch as the hosts had Savo Pavicevic and Vladimir Volkov dismissed in the second half while Roman Zozulia had already been given his marching orders for the visitors in the first period.

Robbie Keane scored a hat-trick as Republic of Ireland beat minnows Faroe Islands 3-0 in Dublin to remain level on points with second-placed Austria, who beat Sweden 2-1, in Group C, where Germany are five points clear.

Bosnia and Hercegovina maintained their unbeaten record and three-point lead over Greece at the top of Group G with a 5-0 win in Lativia. Greece won 1-0 at Lithuania.

Iceland missed the chance to move top of Group E as they were beaten 4-2 at home to Slovenia, who moved off the bottom.